Thu | Aug 13, 2020

New Technology Reducing Remittance Costs

Published:Friday | February 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Member service officer Marc-Anthony Thomas (left) accepts cash from Percival LaTouche, president of the Jamaica Association for the Resettlement of Returning Residents (right), as Ricardo Williams, manager, JN branch and MoneyShop operations unit, looks on.
Percival LaTouche (left), president of the Jamaica Association for the Resettlement of Returning Residents, watches as Sheakera James (right), member service officer, opens his account at the JN Bank Half-Way Tree location as Jennifer Twiddle, business relationship and sales manager watches.

Remittance companies' use of new technology is driving a transformation which is making it less costly and more efficient for Jamaicans overseas to send funds home, says Horace Hines, general manager of JN Money Services (JNMS).

He explained that the average cost to send money from the United States of America (USA) to Jamaica fell from about 11.75 per cent in 2002, to 6.76 per cent in 2016, according to studies by the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. And, recently, the advent of technology to shift transactions to online platforms is driving these costs even lower.

"The overall cut in costs result in more than US$100 million in the pockets of Jamaican recipients, as the country records more than US$2 billion in remittances, annually," Hines said. "The USA is our largest source for remittances; and there is a general trend for transaction costs to fall.

"Jamaicans who remit large sums to their relatives, and to do business, have always been comfortably accommodated by the formal remittance market," the JNMS general manager stated. "However, since 1990, the emergence of specialised money-transfer companies reaching into communities to accommodate those wishing to remit small sums has transformed the market."

Globally, remittances grew from some US$1.5 billion in the decade of the 1980s to US$4.7 billion in the 1990s; and then increased to US$14.8 billion in the first decade of the 21st century. However, in 1980 remittances amounted to merely US$121 million, Patsy Lewis and Claremont Kirton revealed in a study on 'Migration and Remittances in Development'.

The formal remittance market, which includes commercial banks, building societies and postal services, swiftly adjusted to the new money-transfer services after 1990.

Percival LaTouche, president of the Jamaica Association for the Resettlement of Returning Residents, said, "Now, the speed and convenience of transactions is a vast improvement on what we had before."

He said he remembered his first pay cheque from British Rail was £3 10 shillings, and he was so excited to send some of it to my mother. "I went to the post office, bought a postal order for one pound ten shillings and a registered envelope. I put the money into the letter I wrote to my mom. After sealing the envelope, I dropped it in the post box instead of giving it back to the postmistress for it to be registered. All this had to be completed with an 'airmail stamp', otherwise it goes by boat. It took five months to reach Jamaica. My mother passed away before it arrived. At that time, delivery by airmail took 10 days to one week."

Economist Kirkland Anderson says a reduction in costs to send remittances will benefit the economy.

"The reduction in the cost benefits both the sender and receiver," explained Anderson. "The sender is paying less for the service and will therefore remit more money to the receiver. When it gets to Jamaica, the receiver has more to spend; and this will result in increased consumption, which drives the economy. Hence, reduction in fees can only be positive," he added.

Remittance figures from the Bank of Jamaica indicate that for the 2015 calendar year, Jamaican residents received more than US$2.226 billion in overseas remittances, which represented 16.1 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). And for the period January to July 2016, Jamaicans overseas sent home approximately US$1.186 billion, which represents some 16.6 per cent of GDP.




Hines indicated that new technology, such as card-based transactions, were introduced to reduce costs and increase convenience; and the recent trend towards Web-based transfers is even more cost-effective.

He pointed out that "moving funds online is far more cost effective. And, we are now using this online technology to further reduce our costs at JN Money Transfer to some $1.99 per transaction from Canada to Jamaica; and a similar service will be available from the USA and the UK later this year. This is a game changer.

"Online transaction is the game changer," Hines concedes, "And this process will influence further growth in the remittance sector."